When you hear the word ‘poacher’, images of ruthless men, slaughtering elephants and rhinoceros and waving bloody tusks and horns, tend to pop into your head. However, what does it mean to poach?
What drives the price of these illicit animal products?
Simply put, demand. In Asia, ivory, rhino horn and other wildlife products are still in high demand. China itself remains the largest importer of these commodities. Reportedly, around 60% of China’s population uses poached animals for traditional medicines and remedies, and also often as a status symbol.
Alongside elephants and rhinos, there are several other animals that really strike a chord with conservationists, since they are threatened with extinction, mainly from the poaching industry. Gorillas, lemurs, pangolins and tigers are also on the fast track to disappearing from our world. Worryingly, only one of the aforementioned animals is not being targeted in Africa.
Here in Mozambique, turtles are constantly under threat from poachers.
But, is ‘exploited’ the right word?
Local communities actually take turtles, purely for the means of using their meat and eggs for subsistence. These often impoverished communities value these easily obtainable animals as a source of protein, that can feed their families. The rest of the turtle is discarded. These poachers do not have an understanding of the worth of the animal’s shell. They have no concept of the black market and certainly no awareness that what they are doing in any way threatens the survival of the species.
This is where our Fire Island community and conservation projects come in. We aim to empower local communities with education, so they have a better understanding of the essential balance of life and the concept of sustainability. To have their backing to protect turtles, we are also creating a number of initiatives that offer alternative income and protein sources to poaching.
We want to focus on the community needs for sustenance, without compromising the environment, or adding to the current issues faced by marine life.
Fire Island Conservation projects
One of the projects we are currently focusing on, in Machangulo, is the establishment of a fish farm in a lake near our properties. We chose tilapia since they are relatively easy to raise and farm, rapidly grow and breed, and consume a vegetarian diet. This project will not only provide locals with meat high in protein and packed with omegas, vitamins and minerals, but it will also create job opportunities.
As part of our efforts to address turtle conservation in Mozambique, we will be setting up a turtle monitoring program. We will also employ locals for this initiative, who we will train as turtle monitors and guides, and eventually marine anti-poaching units.
The importance of research
The poaching and illegal wildlife trade in Southern Africa is still prevalent, which we know because Mozambique and South Africa are two of only six countries worldwide, collecting and keeping detailed data on poaching.
Supporting conservation through eco-tourism
Of course, running community projects, employing locals, and purchasing equipment for training and data collection, all come at a price. As well as our online fundraising, we offer limited adventure tours to our Fire Island, for experienced SCUBA divers.
Wildlife is worth far more alive than dead.
The eco-tourism industry is highly popular, and worth billions of dollars, annually. In 2019, the global eco-tourism market was valued at $181.1 billion. Despite slowing down a bit due to the pandemic, it is still on track to reach $333.8 billion by 2027. The wildlife trade remains one of the most lucrative criminal operations and the United Nations estimates the global illegal wildlife market to be worth between $7 billion and $23 billion a year. That’s a difference of over $150 billion. Even looking at the market value of eco-tourism two years ago, it is still worth eight times more than the black market wildlife trade at its highest value.
The opportunity to help conserve animals is everywhere. Whether you are just more careful about the products you use, or do your research when booking your vacations and animal encounters, you can be part of the solution. Wildlife will only be worth more alive than dead if we can stop the demand for their products, and continue to support ethical eco-tourism.